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Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving, long time visitors to this blog will know, is my favorite holiday. It’s not about venerating one ideal (inevitably over others) or celebrating a victory (at which some must have suffered defeat) or a particular personage (who may be disliked or worse by some segment of the populace) . . . rather, Thanksgiving is just about being reflecting on the good things in your life, the things for which you are thankful.

 Certainly, in some years the thanks is more bountiful than in others. Indeed, in some years the things worthy of regret may seem, feel, or actually be more plentiful than those for which we give thanks. But when all the marks are tallied, there invariably ARE things worth venerating . . . and that in itself is worth being thankful for.

On the whole, most people I know are pretty underwhelmed with how 2016 has progressed thus far. The grim reaper has claimed a larger than usual number of influential musicians, actors, and pop cultural icons. Within my personal sphere of connectivity there have been several deaths, a handful of completely unexpected endings to long term relationships, major surgeries, chronic illnesses, and the usual collection of smaller “slings and arrows” that pepper our lives with regret and dissatisfaction. And don’t even get me started about the only recently concluded election season.

And yet, I am fully prepared to raise a glass (or a turkey leg) at today’s gathering and celebrate all that I DO have to be thankful for—friends and family, health, success in a career I love. But perhaps the thing I overlook most often, and one that I am keenly aware of this year, is that I am thankful to be living in a time and a place where I’m afforded the opportunity to try again. If life pulls the rug out from under my feet, or I make a critical error, or bad luck just settles on my shoulders for an inexplicably long period of time . . . I can roll my sleeves up and try again.

With all the problems the world is facing right now . . . with all the errors we seem to have made . . . with all the bad news we see crawling across our computer screens . . . despite all of that, we have the chance to get up tomorrow and try again. Try to fix the things that are broken. Try to steer the course of our lives (personal, public, political, cultural) into calmer, saner waters. Try to spend more time doing the things that really matter to us. Try to help those around us. Try to leave a positive mark on the world, so that when we’ve gone those who remain will be able to raise their glasses and give thanks for the legacy we’ve bequeathed them.

So whether you celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday or not, I hope you’ll join me in this little ritual.

Stop whatever it is you’re doing. Raise the glass, cup, can, bottle, or canteen of whatever it is your drinking (or simply take a moment of silence if you’re not drinking anything), and think or speak a few quick, personally meaningful words of thanks for the truly important things in your life. Appreciate what you’ve got. Because in this life fortunes can change in an instant . . . and we should try our best never to take the good things for granted.

 Happy Thanksgiving, all!

JAPANESE TV ADS: Halloween

Oh look! Another collection of bizarre TV commercials fresh off the Japanese air-waves. This time the bundle includes:

• A bunch of “Halloween goods” commercials . . . showing that in the 20 years since I last visited Japan, Halloween has grown to be something that they celebrate . . . somehow. I throw that last part in because aside from wearing costumes, it’s unclear what the Japanese to mark the holiday. For one thing, all the ads show adults (or young adults) dressing in costume, but none of them show kids. And none of them show anything that looks even a little bit like trick-or-treating. So how DO the Japanese celebrate Halloween? I guess we’ll just have to wait until next year to try and suss it out.
• Pen-Pineapple-apple-pen . . . yeah . . . I don’t get it either.
• Magic gaijin Tommy Lee Jones is a river taxi driver who not only saves a man’s day with canned coffee, he shows some real-world pictures of a section of Tokyo that was featured in the anime “Miss Hokusai” (which I just saw the other night).
• An ad for a live-action Death Note film.
• An oily personification of credit card transaction fees. (Ooo! I wanna bop him right in the snoot!)

JAPANESE TV ADS: Dancing Fools

Time for another collection of TV commercials fresh off the Japanese airwaves. Just the thing to give you a moment of inanity before putting the finishing touches on your Halloween costume! Or maybe it will give you an all new inspiration for a costume that NO ONE will be able to figure out.

• The Snickers time-out comes to Japan.

• Tommy Lee Jones is back as . . . ummm . . . a coffee swigging robocop?

• Return of the haunted ramen.

• Hula dancing, Bollywood dancing, and plenty of J-Pop!

JAPANESE TV ADS: Everyone’s Cookie

The leaves are turning and new TV commercials are falling like leaves. Here’s another collection of inexplicable advertisements fresh off the Japanese airwaves.

• The Japanese version of “Cups” . . . using insect powder. (Ewww!)

• The official Pokari Sweat dance.

• The boat race ninja lady promoting recycling . . . “Change yourself!”

• The origin story for the Folklore Friends.

• And Furuta … EVERYONE’S cookie!

SUMO: 1997 Four-Way Playoff

A few weeks ago, before the start of the Aki Basho, I predicted that the tournament would be decided by a playoff. Indeed, I stuck to that prediction very heavily through the first week. But, as we now know, I was completely wrong about that.

But just because my prognostication skills were lacking, it doesn’t mean that we have to be denied the excitement of a playoff. Back in March, during the Haru Basho, NHK showed a little retrospective on a four-way playoff that took place nineteen years earlier.

In sumo, the yusho [tournament championship for each division is given to the rikishi who amassed the most number of wins over the fifteen day tournament. If two or more rikishi are tied with the same number of wins, then they have a playoff to decide the winner. This takes place immediately following the conclusion of the regularly scheduled matches.

The style of the playoff depends on how many contenders there are. If it’s just two, they have a single head-to-head match. If there are four, they have a mini “bracket” with two preliminary “elimination” matches, and then the winners facing each other for the final prize. If there are three rikishi, the organization is more involved, with a rikishi needing to win two matches in a row in order to claim the title.

The playoff featured in this video happened to decide the 1997 Haru Basho, about two years after I left Japan, so I never got to see it back then (though I did read about it in the now defunct Sumo Digest magazine). The rikishi, though, are all very familiar to me—they were the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet] during my time there and throughout the rest of the decade.

Takanohana was the last great Japanese-born rikishi, the son of a former ozeki and nephew of a former yokozuna. Although there was no denying his skill or dominance, I never liked him much. I always thought he had a little too much swagger (even when he was just coming up through the Makuuchi Division)—too much sense of entitlement. There’s no denying that he backed it up with great sumo, but his attitude just kept me from ever rooting for him.

Of course, the real reason I wasn’t rooting for Takanohana was that instead I rooted for Akebono—the first foreign-born rikishi to ever be promoted to yokozuna. Akebono was one of the “Hawaiian Boys” of the 1990s, along with ozeki Konishiki and another guy in this playoff, then-ozeki (but eventually yokozuna) Musashimaru. There was a rivalry between the two Americans, to be sure . . . but not as strong as the rivalry between them and Takanohana and his brother, yokozuna Wakanohana.

The final man in this playoff is perhaps the greatest ozeki of all time, Kaio, who held sumo’s second highest rank for eleven years but was never able to get promoted to yokozuna. Kaio had only just joined the Makuuchi Division when I left Japan in October 1994 (though he had already risen to the rank of komusubi in that first year), so I never got to see him at his best.

This is a good example of what sumo was like when I first started watching. There was an abundance of highly talented rikishi, and each basho was fought at a very high level of quality with the yusho closely contested. So even though it’s just a handful of matches, enjoy this look back at how sumo used to be . . . and how a playoff would be handled, if we’re ever lucky enough to have such a tightly fought basho.

SUMO: Aki Basho Wrap-Up

Holy maneki neko! What a tournament that was, ne? I think it’s pretty safe to say that NO ONE predicted the drama that just played out over the past two weeks. Goodness knows that my predictions were WAY off target! But then, who COULD predict that Goeido, who for the past two years has been the weakest of the ozeki, would bounce back from his kadoban status to have a perfect 15–0 record and win a zensho yusho (something that had NEVER been done in the centuries-long history of sumo)?

Just as unlikely, though, is that Kisenosato, after performing at yokozuna level all year long, would falter in this, his greatest chance to finally win a tournament (since Hakuho was absent) and get the yokozuna promotion he has sought for so long. Indeed, with Goeido’s win yesterday, we have the almost unfathomable situation that Kisenosato is the ONLY current ozeki who HASN’T won a yusho . . . despite the fact that he’s clearly the strongest among them (and generally performs stronger than yokozuna Kakuryu), and has been for two years or more. But the standards are clear. It doesn’t matter how strong a rikishi you are, you can’t be a yokozuna until you’ve won a couple of tournaments. It’s just such a weird turn of events that if Goeido has another dominant performance in November, he could succeed where Kisenosato hasn’t been able to.

The most disappointing performance of the tournament was certainly Terunofuji’s, who for the second time this year had double-digit losses. Now, clearly, the big guy is injured and won’t give himself time to heal. More problematic, though, is that he’s publicly denying that injury has anything to do with it. In his post-basho interview, Terunofuji said, “I lost because I was weak. My training was insufficient.” Now, it’s entirely possible that he’s just spouting the macho crap that rikishi are supposed to say to the press. But if he really DOES believe that, his career is going to crash and burn inside two years. He’s hurt, plain and simple, and his body needs time to recuperate.

Of course, Terunofuji isn’t the only rikishi with that problem. I hope that Hakuho, Tochinoshin, Ikioi, Osunaarashi, and yes, even my much maligned Ichinojo all spend most of the time between now and November’s Kyushu Basho healing. Heck, I’d even be okay with them skipping another tournament in the name of long-term health. I want 2017 to be filled with all my favorite rikishi fighting at the top of their abilities!

Over the next few weeks I have a few small sumo related posts I want to make . . . but for the most part this is going to put the topic to bed until the banzuke for November is announced sometime around Halloween.

Matta ne!

SUMO: Aki Basho 2016 Senshuraku [Final Day] (Day 15)

Wow. What a crazy fortnight it’s been! Here we are at Day 15, senshuraku [the final day] of the 2016 Aki Basho. And while the yusho [tournament championship] has already been decided (what, didn’t you watch yesterday’s matches?), there are still a few matters of business left to resolve.

First and foremost is the question of whether Goeido can add to his glory by becoming the first rikishi EVER in the history of sumo to enter a tournament kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and finish it with a zensho yusho [no loss tournament championship]. The only one standing between him and that bit of sumo history is ozeki Kotoshogiku. The funny thing is, if Goeido DOES get that record, it’s one that Hakuho can never attain. (Take THAT Mr. Greatest Of All Time!)

Looking over the whole banzuke [ranking sheet] there are only three rikishi coming into today’s action with 7–7 records . . . the rest have already decided their fate in terms of make- or kachi-koshi [majority of losses or wins]. The greatest pressure is on M15 Kyokushuho, who will be demoted to the Juryo Division if he loses to M13 Toyohibiki and ends up make-koshi. M7 Shohozan will face M15 Tokushoryu, who already is make-koshi and almost certainly headed to Juryo in November. And finally, M7 Ikioi has to fight for his kachikoshi against komusubi Kaisei (I guess that’s the price for being a popular rikishi . . . the TV audience wants to see you in one of the final matches, and that means a more dangerous opponent).

Also, the Kyokai [Sumo Association] has announced which rikishi will be receiving special prizes based on their performances during the basho. These special prizes can be handed out, but aren’t required . . . so they really have to be earned. This tournament, a few rikishi stepped up and had really phenomenal performances.

  • Shukun-sho [Outstanding Performance Prize]—This is given to a maegashira-ranked rikishi who had a winning record including wins over yokozuna and ozeki. It is the prize most frequently left unawarded. In this case, though, Okinoumi surely earned it by beating two yokozuna and three ozeki. There was thought around nakabi [the middle day; Day 8] that he might earn multiple awards because he was doing so well . . . but his collapse in Week 2 left this as the only one he truly deserved.
  • Kanto-sho [Fighting Spirit Prize]—Sekiwake is one of the toughest ranks on the banzuke, and this was Takayasu’s first tournament there. Still he’s managed to secure double-digit wins already . . . and is hoping to add to that today. That shows some real fighting spirit.
  • Gin-sho [Technique Prize]—This ostensibly is for a rikishi who uses an especially wide range of kimarite [winning techniques] during the tournament, but sometimes it’s treated more as a “style prize” for being cool under pressure. Endo has not only racked up a lot of wins (twelve with one more bout still to go), he’s done so using five different kimarate including a couple of unusual ones (sukuinage [beltless arm throw] against Chiyoshoma on Day 4, and tottari [arm bar throw] against Shohozan on Day 13)

Now, having said all that, let’s get to the feature matches.

J1 Ura (5–9) vs. J3 Azumaryu (6–8)—I’ve talked a little about Ura before. The sumo pundits say that despite his lackluster performance this basho he’s someone to watch out for in 2017 . . . and this match gives you an idea why.  (1:25)

M13 Amakaze (4-10) vs. J1 Osunaarashi (6–7–1)—Despite pulling a groin muscle on Day 5, Egyptian rikishi Osunaarashi (one of my favorites) missed only two days and now is finishing the basho with an “up match.” He’s already make-koshi, so he’ll be down in Juryo again in November, but hopefully he’ll take time off and let ALL his injuries heal. I very much am looking forward to seeing him return to the Makuuchi division in 2017. (2:56)

M9 Nishikigi (8–6) vs. M14 Endo (12–2)—The yusho may be out of Endo’s reach, but if he wins today he’ll finish the basho in sole possession of second place (quite a feather in his cap) and do so with a 13–2 record, which often is the record of the person who DOES take the yusho. Basically, he’s already had a terrific basho, but this is his chance to put a decisive capper on it. (3:15)

Komusubi Kaisei (5–9) vs. M7 Ikioi (7–7)—Kaisei is make-koshi already, so he’s going to be demoted from komusubi next basho . . . but this is his chance to finish on a strong note and deny Ikioi the final win he needs to get kachi-koshi. For his part, Ikioi has had a rough tournament, having started it with a sore back and just never seeming to get the break he needed. A win today will give him a small promotion on the banzuke and a positive note to carry him through the two months until November’s tournament. (9:45)

Ozeki Goeido (14–0) vs. ozeki Kotoshogiku (9–5)—At the start of this basho, both Goeido and Kotoshogiku were kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion]. Now here we are on Day 15, they both are kachikoshi, and Goeido is on the verge of doing something no kadoban ozeki has ever done. It seems only fitting that Kotoshogiku is his opponent. (12:15)

SUMO: Aki Basho 2016 (Day 14)

It’s Day 14 of the Aki Basho, and everything’s on the line today. Goeido’s win yesterday over Harumafuji means he still has a perfect record (13–0), still has a two win lead over his nearest competitor (M14 Endo), and only has two matches left to fight. If Endo loses or Goeido wins, the yusho [tournament championship] will go to Goeido.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think there was any way that Goeido would beat yokozuna Harumafuji. And it looked like he was in real trouble. But at the edge of the dohyo, he pulled his favorite kubinage [neck throw] and turned the tables at the final moment. He has taken control of his destiny and manhandled it into the shape he wants . . . and that shape is looking more and more like a zensho yusho [no loss tournament championship]. Today he fights M6 Tamawashi, which is a bit of a surprise to me (since he hasn’t yet fought komusubi Kaisei), and then tomorrow he will face ozeki Kotoshogiku. It seems next to impossible that Goeido will lose both those matches (in fact, it seems highly unlikely that he’ll lose either), but with sumo you never know what will happen . . . so we’ll just have to wait and see.

M14 Endo is now the only rikishi remaining with an 11–2 record. He beat M7 Shohozan with a neat tottari [arm bar throw] reversal at the edge of the ring. Meanwhile, sekiwake Takayasu lost to M5 Mitakeumi in a hard-fought bout, and yokozuna Harumafuji lost to Goeido himself, leaving Endo as the only rikishi with even a mathematical chance of tying Goeido and forcing a playoff on Sunday.

M1 Okinoumi (7–6) vs. M8 Kotoyuki (9–4)—Okinoumi started the basho wonderfully, but now has lost five straight matches and STILL hasn’t secured his kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. You might think that giving him a match against an opponent ranked M8 is a gift, but that opponent is Kotoyuki, which means that this should be a tough match. (4:25)

M4 Myogiryu (4–9) vs. komusubi Tochiozan (6–7)—Tochiozan has had a tough tournament, but he’s fighting to hold off make-koshi [majority of losses] so that he can retain his komusubi rank in November. Myogiryu has already gotten make-koshi, but he’s trying to avoid double-digit losses and prevent himself from sliding too far down the banzuke [ranking sheet] for the next basho. (6:05)

Sekiwake Takayasu (10–3) vs. M14 Endo (11–2)—This is the first match that could decide the yusho. If Takayasu beats Endo, it’s all over—ozeki Goeido’s tournament victory is assured. And Takayasu has a lot to fight for. He wants to get at least eleven wins so that he’s still on course for a possible promotion to ozeki if he performs well in Kyushu in November. Still, despite the difference in their current ranks, the fact of the matter is that Endo has the lead 5–3 in their all-time head-to-head matches. (6:35)

Ozeki Goeido (13–0) vs. M6 Tamawashi (9–4)—This match is the real deal. If Goeido wins, he secures the yusho, plain and simple. Tamawashi is fighting very well this basho, but he’s not really in the same class as Goeido. I think the Kyokai [sumo association] scheduled this match with the thought that Goeido would certainly lose to Harumafuji, so they gave him an easy Saturday opponent in hopes of setting up a very dramatic Sunday confrontation with Kotoshogiku. Not that it really matters. Goeido is seeming like a man of destiny this basho. I don’t think there’s anyone left in the mix who is likely to beat him (but komusubi Kaisei would present a better challenge). (8:05)

Yokozuna Harumafuji (10–3) vs. ozeki Kisenosato (9–4)—If you’d told me two weeks ago that the basho would be decided by one match on Day 14 and showed me the pairings, I’d have bet the ranch that THIS was going to be the decisive bout. As it is, this is just a formality, though don’t tell that to the rikishi. This is their sixtieth head-to-head meeting, and for competitors like these there are no “meaningless” fights. (10:15)

SUMO: Aki Basho 2016 (Day 13)

It’s Day 13 of the Aki Basho and we’re heading into the final weekend. Ozeki Goeido continues to be unbeaten, and leads his nearest competitors by two victories. He faces yokozuna Harumafuji today, and if he wins that match I don’t think there’s any way that he can be stopped.

The math is clear, if Goeido wins two of his remaining matches, he’ll have locked up the yusho [tournament championship]. But the truth of the matter is that, given the way he’s been fighting, Harumafuji is the only person left on his schedule that he has any reason to fear. Of course, the REAL fear is that even one loss will shake his confidence or just put a seed of doubt in his mind that will make him vulnerable to opponents like komusubi Kaisei and ozeki Kotoshogiku (the rikishi he’s most likely to meet on days 14 and 15). But if the yokozuna doesn’t plant that first seed of doubt (and keep himself amongst the contenders two wins back), there’s almost no chance that Goeido will lose to BOTH those other opponents.

If it seems oddly as though I’ve been rooting against Goeido in these posts, focusing on what it will take to defeat him rather than what he has to do to win, I suppose that’s because I kind of have been. Goeido is not my favorite rikishi, mainly because for most of the last two years he’s been a weak ozeki who has spent most tournaments hovering right around the break-even point. He’s been kadoban four times during that period—including THIS BASHO—and he’s never been seriously in the hunt for a yusho. Basically, he hadn’t earned my respect, and there were many other rikishi I’d rather see hoist the Emperor’s Cup, most notably ozeki Kisenosato, who HAS performed at yokozuna-like levels for most of this year.

But as we roll into final weekend, I have to say that Goeido certainly HAS performed like a strong ozeki throughout this whole tournament, and he has EARNED to lead he’s holding on to. In fact, no one else in anywhere on the banzuke [ranking sheet] has put in a performance that is fully deserving of the championship (though Harumafuji was in the mix until his most recent loss to Takayasu). At this point, my biggest “concern” is that Goeido finish strong . . . that he boldly WINS the yusho, and doesn’t stumble and end up taking it because no one else is left to challenge him for it. I could accept Kisenosato or even Harumafuji winning through that route—they’ve paid their long term dues. Goeido . . . not so much.

Today’s feature matches include:

M7 Shohozan (7–5) vs. M14 Endo (10–2)—Endo is hanging tough. He’s one of only three rikishi with a reasonable chance to win the yusho. Of course, today is the day when they start pitting him against higher quality opponents, this time in the person of Shohozan, who is on the verge of kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and so is very motivated to secure a win.  (5:10)

M2 Tochinoshin (3–9) vs. M4 Myogiryu (4–8)—Both of these rikishi are already make-koshi [majority of losses] and are fighting to mitigate how far down the banzuke they’ll fall for November’s tournament. That having been said, they’re also both rikishi with a great deal of talent and pride, and Tochinoshin is one of my favorite sumotori. Sometimes the best matches happen when the only thing at stake is pride. (6:06)

M1 Okinoumi (7–5) vs. M5 Aoiyama (7–5)—Okinoumi started the tournament with six straight wins, but now has had five straight losses. At one point there was talk about him getting multiple special prizes after the tournament, now he’s just hoping to secure kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. Okinoumi seems to have lost his mental focus and without that, he’s unlikely to beat anyone. On the other hand, Aoiyama has had an up and down basho, looking slow and plodding one day, then dancing nimbly along the tawara [rice bales that form the edge of the ring] the next. The question here is which version of each rikishi will enter the dohyo today. (6:35)

Sekiwake Takayasu (10–2) vs. M5 Mitakeumi (8–4)—Both of these rikishi are having particularly good tournaments. Takayasu already has double-digit wins in his first time ranked at sekiwake, leading to talk of a possible ozeki promotion if he can do it again in November. On the other hand, Mitakeumi is also already kachi-koshi and hoping to earn a promotion to M1 or possibly even komusubi in November. Takayasu, of course, is also still in the yusho hunt along with Harumafuji and Endo. They’ve both got a lot to fight for, and I expect that means an exciting bout. (9:20)

Ozeki Kotoshogiku (7–5) vs. ozeki Terunofuji (4–8)—There’s nothing of particular importance in this bout of two faltering ozeki . . . except that it’s Kotoshogiku’s best remaining chance to secure kachi-koshi and erase his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] status. Having already secured make-koshi, Terunofuji is going to be kadoban in November, so the best that he can hope for is to not injure himself further in the remaining three matches. (10:10)

Yokozuna Harumafuji (10–2) vs. ozeki Goeido (12–0)—This is it . . . the match that will basically decide through what lens we’ll view the rest of the coming weekend. If Harumafuji wins, then there’s will only be a single loss between him and the leader, and a playoff on Sunday is still a very real possibility. If Goeido wins, then Harumafuji will be out of contention and Goeido will only need one more win to cement his hold on the yusho. (11:15)

SUMO: Aki Basho 2016 (Day 12)

As Day 12 of the Aki Basho dawns, there are a few small changes on the leaderboard, but a terrifically huge change in the state of the race for the yusho [tournament championship]. Goeido remains alone at the top of the pile with a perfect 11–0 record, and three rikishi are tied for second place—Harumafuji, Takayasu, and Endo. However, those three are tied with a record of 9–2, giving Goeido a two-win lead with only four matches left to fight.

 The big match yesterday pitted ozeki Kisenosato against ozeki Goeido. I’ll admit, I thought Kisenosato was going to beat him and do it fairly handily, throwing the whole yusho race into overdrive. And the match started out that way. But Kisenosato failed to put his opponent away when given an opportunity, and Goeido seized the moment (quite literally) quickly rushing Kisenosato out of the ring. The result is that Goeido remains the leader, and Kisenosato is essentially out of the running (and out of luck in his hopes for a yokozuna promotion).

 The second biggest match of the day was yokozuna Harumafuji against sekiwake Takayasu. It was a bruising, slap-fest (as matches between these two tend to be), but it seemed like Harumafuji had it more or less in hand. After exchanging thrusts and blows, he had his opponent backed up to the ring’s edge and was ready to force him out . . . but the yokozuna uncharacteristically rushed the attack, leaning forward rather than stepping up, and Takayasu took advantage by twisting even as he was falling. The final result was Harumafuju belly flopping to the ground clearly ahead of Takayasu.

 So where does that leave Goeido?

 As long as he doesn’t lose two of his remaining matches, he will win the tournament. And even if he does lose two, it will greatly depend on WHICH two opponents manage to beat him. In the final four days Goeido is certain to face yokozuna Harumafuji, yokozuna Kakuryu, and ozeki Kotoshogiku, with komusubi Kaisei likely rounding out the schedule. If he manages beat Harumafuji (giving the yokozuna a third loss), the yusho is absolutely sewn up. Honestly, I think it’s all but sewn up right now, because the way Goeido is fighting right now, I don’t think any of the other three really have a hope of beating him. (Though I suppose I have to leave open the possibility of henkas and other “trick plays” that circumvent the quality of sumo Goeido has shown us lately.)

 Let’s look at it the other way, though. What are the chances that Goeido can beat all of his remaining opponents and become the first ozeki in decades to come into a basho kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and come out hoisting the emperor’s cup . . . and the first in even longer (perhaps ever, I’m not clear on the records) to do so with a zensho yusho [perfect record tournament championship]. At this point, I’d say the chances are pretty good. As I mentioned above, if Goeido stays focused and fighting at the level he’s shown us, Harumafuji is the only one who has a reasonable chance to beat him.

 With all that said, let’s look at today’s top matches.

 M14 Endo (9–2) vs. M5 Mitakeumi (8–3)—Endo’s loss yesterday leaves him two behind the leader just as his schedule is about to get more challenging. Today he faces Mitakeumi who has looked solid this basho and is giving the appearance of a rikishi who’ll be a force to be reckoned with in upcoming tournaments. Basically, he’s in the same spot that Endo himself was about two years ago. Injuries and size have held Endo back from fulfilling that promise (at least so far), but it would be a big boost to his future prospects if he can overcome this “shadow of tournaments past.” On the other side, it would be very auspicious for Mitakeumi if he could beat Endo and metaphorically say “I will do better than he did.” (4:40)

 M3 Takanoiwa (4–7) vs. M2 Shodai (4–7)—Two rikishi on the verge of make-koshi [majority of losses]. After this bout, one of them will be guaranteed a demotion in November, while the other will still have a tenuous chance to pull out a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and a promotion for the Kyushu Basho. Desperate times makes for exciting sumo. (6:00)

 Sekiwake Takayasu (9–2) vs. M1 Yoshikaze (4–7)—Takayasu is fresh off his upset over Harumafuji (though no kin-boshi [gold star award] for him because he’s a sekiwake, not a rank-and-file maegashira. He MUST win if he wants to have even a shadow of a hope of contending for the yusho, plus he’s pushing hard for double-digit wins to bolster his chance of a promotion to ozeki in the relatively near future. Meanwhile, Yoshikaze has had a tough basho and is on the verge of make-koshi. He MUST win all of his remaining matches if he wants a shot at being promoted back into the sanyaku ranks. (7:15)

 Ozeki Kisenosato (8–3) vs. komusubi Kaisei (4–7)—Kisenosato’s loss yesterday leaves him with nothing to fight for . . . except ozeki pride. In fact, I think the next four days are going to tell us a lot about his character. Can he shake off his disappointment and perform well for no reason other than because that’s what an ozeki is supposed to do? Does he have the inner strength, poise, and determination to ACT like a yokozuna, even though he’s not going to become one just yet? If so, I think the Kyokai [Sumo Association] will notice and say nice things about him in the press. If not, they’ll probably be more disparaging, saying that he’s “proven that he’s not up to the responsibility of being a yokozuna at this time.” Kaisei, on the other hand, is fighting to avoid make-koshi and keep alive the hopes of retaining his sanyaku rank in November. (8:40)

 Yokozuna Harumafuji (9–2) vs. ozeki Kotoshogiku (7–4)—Harumafuji must be very disappointed with himself after yesterday’s loss. He had the advantage and he let it slip away. That bodes poorly for Kotoshogiku, because Harumafuji rarely performs poorly two days in a row, and the ozeki has been performing poorly all tournament. Indeed, he’s kadoban and still hasn’t secured his kachi-koshi. Doing so with a win over a yokozuna would show a lot of style . . . but I don’t know that he’s got enough gas left in the tank to challenge Harumafuji. (9:47)

 Ozeki Goeido (11–0) vs. yokozuna Kakuryu (8–3)—Goeido beat the top ozeki yesterday. Can he beat a yokozuna today? He’s got an edge because Kakuryu is fighting more like an ozeki than a yokozuna these days. In particular, Kakuryu has had a very disappointing Aki Basho, though he’s secured his kachi-koshi (something that shouldn’t even be a question for a yokozuna). I have to say, I expect Goeido to win this one . . . but at the top ranks, you never know what’s going to happen. (10:17)